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Almost Famous

Director Cameron Crowe extends his autobiographical homage to 70s rock —Risë Keller (DVD review...)

Patrick Fugit is Almost Famous

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Ghost: The Special Collector’s Edition is hardly special and provides limited insight on this classic movie. After seeing it on cable television ad infinitum for the last 17 years, I was hoping for the inclusion and reinsertion of deleted footage that would make watching this DVD a new viewing experience. But that isn’t the case.

Still, Ghost is a great movie. The cast gives a winning ensemble performance. The screenplay and story are tight. And Ghost, in addition to Dirty Dancing and Roadhouse, cemented Patrick Swayze’s icon status.

Spirited Away

Extra features fail to provide dramatic insight on the staging of a credible on-screen romance
Extra features fail to provide dramatic insight on the staging of a credible on-screen romance

By writer Bruce Joel Rubin and director Jerry Zucker’s (Naked Gun) own admission, Ghost was a late 20th century twist on Hamlet. The connection is that Sam’s spirit (Swayze), like the elder Hamlet wants closure for his mortal life. However, unlike the elder Hamlet, Sam’s spirit is more proactive in putting his affairs in order.

Spirits trapped on earth by unresolved issues is certainly not a new story idea. Thematic and periodic contemporary Always (Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter) and the pair’s godfather, Kiss Me Goodbye (James Caan), did not really stay with the collective consciousness in the same way Ghost did. 17 years later, I do not think it is a stretch to see Ghost as the template for The Sixth Sense. Although M. Night Shyamalan introduced key twists in his movie, it was definitely homage.

DVD Extras

The Writer, Director and Actor commentary is unimpressive. I seldom find value in commentary tracks; too often they wax self-congratulatory or scream out “Hey Maw, look what I did.” Sadly, this one is no exception.

Ghost Stories: the Making of a Classic is a little more interesting. It is the best of the special features on this DVD. It reveals the many bumps in the road that the production transcended to become such a special movie. Bruce Joel Rubin had initial misgivings about Zucker directing. Zucker in turn had reservations about casting Swayze in the lead. The final surprise is that Whoopi Goldberg was initially considered too high-profile for the part. On Swayze’s insistence, Goldberg was screen-tested and hired. The movie gods work in mysterious ways.

Rubin finding inspiration in Hamlet was something to which I could definitely relate. There is something very compelling about that story. Moreover, it provides a new context for appreciating Ghost. Having this information not only makes the movie more satisfying, but allows us to see Shakespeare as adaptable and approachable instead of literal and canonical. It could even be argued that Ghost paved the way for the loose adaptations of Shakespeare that have since followed (O, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man, et al).

In this iteration, as Hamlet, Sam (Swayze) saves the living and his own soul. Ophelia gets closure in the form of Molly (Moore), instead of going insane and drowning in the moat, and Horatio’s stand-in, Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg) gets to bear her prince to fairer pastures, instead of watching him bleed out on the floor of Castle Elsinore. Ghost’s ending was definitely more uplifting than the Shakespeare’s source material.

Inside the Paranormal is one extra feature that just takes up space. The “expert testimony” from practicing “Mediums” included in this featurette was anticlimactic, uninteresting, and far from enlightening.

Also skippable is The Alchemy of a Love Scene. The deconstruction of the pot-throwing scene only highlighted that Demi Moore wanted to learn the craft so she didn’t look silly on screen. The featurette failed to provide any dramatic insight on the writing or the staging of credible on-screen romance. The lesson here is that you don’t always want to draw attention to the man behind the curtain because he can’t always explain himself.

Picture and Sound

The picture and sound are competent. Fortunately, this is not a movie that requires a great deal of remastering both because of its relative youth and because of its comparatively minimal special effects.

How to Use This DVD

Ghost is a great classically timed movie. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter and want to get a good sense of how to pace your movie, watch this movie on your laptop with the graphical timer showing. It serves as a metronome tuned to the “plot point” structure Syd Field laid out in his book: Screenplay. In addition to the tightly honed plotline, Ghost has an excellent sense of well-placed comic relief thanks to Rubin and Zucker’s 20-odd collaborative revisions of the script. You also get to see how much score adds to a picture by clocking the dramatic pacing of Maurice Jarre’s score relative to the unfolding plot.

If you want to know some of the back-story, Ghost Stories: the Making of a Classic is worth watching. You can skip the commentary track, Inside the Paranormal and The Alchemy of a Love Scene without fear of the bad ones coming to get you.

The parts of the Special Editon DVD do offer some surprises, but their sum doesn’t justify a re-purchase of this incarnation of Ghost.